The Best Seafood Dives in Maryland
Old Salty’s Restaurant
Fishing Creek, Maryland
An Eastern Shore crab quest could have no finer conclusion than in a cozy, worn booth at this sprawling, big-hearted family place that shows off the spoils of this watermen community—complete with salty, loving counsel from your waitress. The enormous broiled crab cakes are made entirely of pure lump meat—no fillers. It's magic how they hold together. And the rich, flavorful Crab Imperial, a classic dish that has largely disappeared from menus today, is a piping-hot combination of crab, mayo, and cheese. In other words, divine. The fresh-from-the-oven dinner rolls are splendid, baked pineapple is the side of choice, and house-made meringue pies complete the Chesapeake dream; oldsaltys.com.
This tiny, picturesque Eastern Shore town on the Tred Avon River is now home to a fashion-forward, Hamptons-cool restaurant right on the water with shaded decks and bright interiors. Order the generous crab cake sandwich—fried or broiled—or just the crab cakes, plus a bloody Mary with an Old Bay rim; capsizeoxmd.com.
If you’re not a seasoned crab picker, have no fear and head straight for the friendly sprawl of Phillips Crab Deck right on the Inner Harbor, where you won't feel shy about asking for crack-and-eat tips. Phillips even has a crab expert on staff; phillipsseafood.com.
It’s a far aesthetic cry from Baltimore’s old-school crab houses, but this standout South Baltimore seafood restaurant’s devotion to regional catch is equally authentic. And the results are truly memorable. Crab lovers need to put cornmeal-dusted soft-shell crabs at the center of the experience. Cocktail lovers will fall in love with the assured and creative moves behind the bar. And brunch fans will go wild for Minnow’s epic, bottomless brunch; minnowbaltimore.com.
Chick and Ruth’s Delly
Packed with jumbo lump crab, the crab cakes at this narrow, fluorescent-lit landmark in downtown Annapolis, are considered among the biggest in the state—and the flavor lives up to the scale. Grab a stool at the long, narrow counter for a bird’s eye view of the hard-working, incredibly friendly staff, and leave room for pie; chickandruths.com.
An institution in Fells Point, Bertha's is legendary for its many delicious variations on steamed mussels. Heed the ubiquitous T-shirts and bumper stickers: Eat Bertha’s Mussels; berthas.com, 410-327-5795
Cantler's Riverside Inn
For a time-honored crab ritual, wait on line for an outdoor table at Cantler's Riverside Inn, a revered crab house perched on Mill Creek outside of town. Try everything (steamed crab, crab dip, Maryland crab soup), enjoy the company of devoted locals, and don't miss watching the sorters working downstairs along the water; cantlers.com; cantlers.com, 410-757-1311.
Captain Billy's Crab House
Locals come to this waterfront restaurant right on the Potomac River for great crabs, which they love eating right off the rolled-out butcher paper on the table; captbillys.com, 301-932-4323
Courtney's Restaurant & Seafood
In this off-the-radar spot for fresh crab cakes at the mouth of the Potomac River, you can’t go wrong with the grilled or fried catch of the day; courtneysseafoodrestaurant.com, 301-872-4403
Crabcake Factory USA
Ocean City, Maryland
Ocean City Among the best crab cakes on any coast. Choose regular (backfin, which some say is sweeter) or all-lump crab cakes. You won't be disappointed; crabcakefactoryonline.com, 410-250-4900
This comfortable neighborhood bar with a view of boat-filled Back Creek has fantastic crab cakes, made with crackers instead of breadcrumbs; davispub.com, 410-268-7432
The best crab cakes ever—which you eat standing up at counters amid the food-vending hubbub of Lexington Market; faidleyscrabcakes.com, 410-727-4898
Havre de Grace, Maryland
Do what the locals have done here since 1944: Dig into a pile of steamed crabs dumped onto your butcher paper-covered table. But don't neglect the steamed shrimp, the lump crab cake, or Dad's Crab Chowder--a milky, buttery variation of oyster stew that features lumps of crabmeat and bits of veggies; pricesrestaurant.com, 410-939-2782
The Red Roost
The red-painted building began life as a chicken house. These days, steamed crab rules the Roost. Prefer not to dig out that armor-protected meat? Go for the broiled seafood platter, which includes a terrific crab cake; theredroost.com, 410-546-5443
Ocean City, Maryland
Sitting in an open-wall bar, perched on pilings above Assawoman Bay, you're tearing into an all-you-can-eat serving of boiled blue crabs. Recorded reggae music floats lazily on the breeze. You're thinking summer on Maryland's Eastern Shore couldn't get more perfect. You're right. Well, unless you're feeling too lazy to wrestle crabmeat from the shell. In that case, order the crab cake; hooperscrabhouse.com, 410-213-1771
Stoney's Solomons Pier
Marylanders know their crab cakes. So this thriving dive, part of a four-restaurant chain, is clearly doing something right. The appeal? Softball-size cakes, light on filling, with meat so fresh it tastes like a whole new food group. You can also get crab on nachos, in sandwiches, in chowder, stuffed in fish, and even on a soft pretzel. Rockfish bites, another local specialty, come lightly fried and served with Buffalo wing sauce and blue-cheese dip; stoneysseafoodhouse.com, 410-326-2424
Town Dock Food & Spirits
You'll want to savor every spoonful of the rich crab bisque before your shellfish-laden eggs St. Michaels arrives. With white tablecloths covering the Sunday brunch tables that overlook the harbor, Town Dock rates at the classy end of the "dives" spectrum. We also love the chunky hash browns with red and green bell peppers; towndockrestaurant.com, 410-745-5577
Waterman's Crab House Restaurant
A classic Chesapeake Bay crab house on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, perfectly unpretentious so that the focus remains on the classics: traditional Maryland crab soup and steamed blue crabs; watermanscrabhouse.com, 410-639-2261
With great fish-and-chips, excellent craft beers, nautical decor, and an air of elegance gone to seed, this cozy place in Baltimore's funky Fells Point neighborhood has it all. The craft beer selection changes frequently and features beers from some of the finest micro-breweries; thewharfrat.com, 410-276-8304
Woody's Crab House
North East, Maryland
You can't go wrong with any form of the namesake crustacean at this classic crab house on the northeastern tip of Chesapeake Bay. Definitely try the crab cake sandwich: meaty, creamy, and very tasty; woodyscrabhouse.com, 410-287-3541